Press for Progress

Dr. Michelle Frank, ADDA Vice President

The 2018 International Women’s Day campaign theme is Press for Progress.

This morning I sat at my desk. Lost in ADHD morning fog, sipping tea (caffeinated, of course, caffeinated!) I wondered how best to give this day of celebration of women its due. I wanted to share its importance in a way that speaks to our ADDA tribe.

I looked at the International Women’s Day website in hopes of finding that hyperfocus spark. It didn’t take long. I found everything I want to say to you. Everything about where the ADHD community needs – deserves – to go. Everything our organization, our community, works towards every day. It was all summed up in three bold words: Press for Progress.

A Day of Celebration… and Reflection

On this day, we are each called to reflect on what it means to be equal. Reflect on what full representation looks like. Reflect on what it feels like to be uniquely valued. Reflect on what the future could have in store if we all worked a bit harder to raise one another up. And we ask, what does this have to do with me? (Hint: If you are a human being, it has everything to do with you.)

As adults with ADHD, issues of parity, voice and human rights are pertinent to our success. We know what it’s like to fight for an even playing field. We know the struggle for appreciation of difference. We know the hard work necessary to provide space for all voices.

It’s All About Context

I’m a specialist in women’s ADHD. Of course, I see the ways that women’s parity has affected or manifested within the mental health field. A few weeks ago, I did an interview for Shape.com. We talked about a recent CDC study showing increased stimulant prescriptions for women. (The study found 2015 prescriptions of ADHD medications for women of reproductive age were four times those in 2003.)

Misperceptions about ADHD in women are rampant. Stigma around diagnosis and treatment with psychotropic medication abound. But the truth, from a clinician’s eye, is that this increase in prescription rates is a good thing. More women are seeking out support. Even better, they are being diagnosed and receiving treatment. (Medication with cognitive behavioral therapy and coaching are first-line treatments for ADHD in both men and women.)

Where Are Our Studies?

When the article came out, I wondered about the context of these findings. Myths about ADHD, ADHD medications, and women’s health all affect people’s perception of the study. Where is the study on the impact of stigma and shame on women with ADHD? Why is there no study on the link between estrogen and dopamine, and how that impacts women with ADHD? I’d like to see those studies hit Facebook instead of those awful posts about how ADHD “isn’t real.” Until then, my friends, we have work to do.

So, when it comes to identifying and serving women with ADHD, are we progressing? Yes. Is it enough? Have we reached parity? No. A resounding NO! (Most research and media communication about ADHD centers on the experiences and behaviors of white hyperactive, school-aged boys.) The good news is that the only constant in this life is change. And we keep fighting for it. Today is as good a day as any to begin fighting for your own progress and declaring your worth. (The world needs more people who assert their worth. It helps everyone else rise to the occasion.)

#IWD 2018 Is For Everyone

If you identify as a woman with ADHD, I hope that today you revel in the small delights of your day. Dare to take one small step out of hiding, and allow yourself to take up room in this world. I hope you dare to speak your truth. Without shame, ask for what you need – be it accommodations, a hug, or some “me time.” When we silence ourselves, we also shut out those who might most wish to help us. Our voices are the most powerful tools we have. Let us use them well.

If you identify as a man with ADHD, I hope you send a note of support and appreciation to the women in your life. Reflect on what pushing for progress means to you. How can you create empowering spaces for girls and women? Because International Women’s Day isn’t only for women and it isn’t only one day. Rather, it’s a lens through which to see the world. When conditions are better for women worldwide, they are better for everyone. Let us aspire to reach greater heights.

What Could Tomorrow Hold?

In closing, dear tribe members… Regardless of your gender identity, I hope you take a moment to be proud and assert your value today. Do it, not only because of your strengths and accomplishments, but because of your differences. What if, for today, your goal wasn’t to pass? Or pretend? Or bend to meet the status quo, keep quiet or fit into a neurotypical life? What if, for today, your goal was to live out loud? To live in assertion of your self and your worth, differences and all?

What if today you pressed for progress?

What could tomorrow hold?

Onward, quirky Queens.

Michelle Frank, Psy.D., Vice President
Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA)

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